The U.S. government released a request for information (RFI) from industry March 18 on how best to acquire so-called tier 2, or medium-class, satellite imaging capabilities for defense and intelligence customers, according to an intelligence official.
Industry’s responses will be used by a joint assessment team composed of defense and intelligence
officials to develop recommendations for meeting this requirement, according to the
source. These recommendations are expected in mid April, with a request for proposals to follow some time thereafter, the source said.
It was this joint assessment team that recommended putting a planned U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) procurement known as
BASIC, or Broad Area Satellite Imagery Collection, on hold.
That move was ordered in a
March 4 memorandum from
John Young, undersecretary of
defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, who said
the work of the
joint assessment team, created to rethink the tier 2 approach, was “hindered by the selection of the NRO” as acquisition agent.
The newly released RFI is classified. However, a Jan. 31 memo from Young offers some clues about the approach being considered
for tier 2. That memo sets forth three options
: a traditional procurement in which the government selects a lead system integrator to provide a turnkey solution; an arrangement whereby the satellite constellation
is government owned but contractor operated; and a service contract in which a contractor would own and operate the system and provide data to the government “at given service levels.”
Copies of both memos were read to Space News and confirmed by another source.
According to the Jan. 31
memo, a number of guidelines and assumptions
the joint assessment team crafting the acquisition approach
. Among them is one that says
“the existing capability will not fully meet previously recognized requirements in the short term, defined as the next five to seven years.”
According to the intelligence official, this suggests the joint assessment team
is insisting that the defense and intelligence community make use of existing or soon-to-be deployed commercial satellite imaging capabilities. These include WorldView 1 owned by Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe and launched in September; and GeoEye-1, owned by Dulles, Va.-based GeoEye and slated for launch late this summer.
Both satellites were financed in large part by contracts with the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which provides mapping and other geospatial data to the defense and intelligence community.
The memo also says that the program will involve a phased delivery of capabilities and could include a combination of commercial and government-owned capabilities.
The memo says the effort must comply
with the U.S.
Commercial Remote Sensing Policy, which directs that the government, including defense and intelligence agencies, rely to the maximum extent practical on commercial data providers to meet their satellite imagery needs.
The March 4 memo’s final sentence says that
acquisition authority for the tier 2 capabilities will be assigned based on
the strategy approved by the assessment team
spokesman Rick Oborn, said March 14 it is
important to the whole spaceborne reconnaissance community that we move through this whole process as quickly as possible.”